Meet the 2019 Bezos Scholars!

Contributed by
SMANGALISO MBILI
2016 Bezos Scholar
Categories
Student Stories

Continuing My Journey To Create Impact Within My Community

Graduating from high school from the African Leadership Academy brought a fear, a fear of going to college and no longer being surrounded by people who shared a deep passion for Africa and her people.

A year later, I was accepted at the African Leadership University (ALU) in Rwanda. As our founder, Mr. Fred Swaniker famously said, "Declare a mission not a degree”, I have declared a mission in BA (Hons) Global Challenges. Being here since September, as Mandela Centennial Scholar has been an empowering experience. One that when I look back, relates to an experience I had in Aspen with the Bezos Scholars Program. Just like the Bezos Scholars Program, ALU has challenged me to think of innovative ways to create impact within my community.

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Classes at ALU are unique, the learning is self-driven and supported by facilitators. The reason why I personally love this approach is that it adds tremendous value to my education as I am fully invested in the process, creating it as I go along. Once a student who was in an under-resourced school, I know the effect of relying on a teacher to drive learning in the classroom, and I can say that it’s not the best way to go about things.

How the experience is structured, as students we spend a lot of time working with our peers on projects and deliverables. This has pushed me to be an independent person and a team player, just like when I worked with my fellow Bezos Scholars on the South African Ideas Festival. Working in these peer groups is a ground to practice working in a team and exploring different leadership paradigms when leading the self and others.

I remember sitting in one of the sessions in Aspen with Adam Grant, and he said: “To become original, you have to try something new, which means accepting some measure of risk.” This has been one of the many pieces of advice that have gotten me this far. And these are words that Mark Hofer also shared with the Bezos Scholars, and they inspired my team and I to take a different turn with our Ideas Festival.

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The student life at ALU is unique, I guess it is what happens when you have a bunch of passionate pan-Africans who share a common purpose in one institution. I enjoy the mealtime conversations I have with my classmates, who come from diverse backgrounds. I cannot fail to mention the late-night debates that would drag to the early hours of the morning, always leading to exciting insights. I always thought I would regret my choice of not going to a university in America, but I am convinced that being in Rwanda has been one of the most beautiful things I have experienced. The culture is rich, with something new to learn every day. The country is one of Africa’s positive stories, a once devastated nation that has risen to become an economic model for the continent, I could have never asked for a better case study and environment to explore my leadership journey. I am constantly inspired by the unique leadership approach that has led to gains in health, education, and food sustainability, all important areas for the continents rise.

All thanks to the ripples that started in Aspen with the Bezos Scholars program, I have been working on organizing an ideas festival for Rwandan youths, a first-ever TEDxALU event and a couple other initiatives directed at new ideas for positive change by young people. With time I have learned to value the power of partnerships and cooperation with people who share a similar purpose to the one I have committed to and I am excited for the future.

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Contributed by
SMANGALISO MBILI
2016 Bezos Scholar
Categories
Student Stories

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